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Fighting Obesity

Wearing a portable instrument to monitor metabolism in the fight against obesity may be on the horizon thanks to research being performed by a University of Houston physicist.

Professor John Miller is working to develop innovative technologies that detect metabolic activity for research and clinical applications. These biosensors would help combat metabolic syndrome, a complication of obesity that affects about 20 percent of obese individuals and greatly increases the likelihood of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Because the cost of drugs to treat metabolic syndrome is prohibitive, there is a critical need to develop technologies that can provide early diagnosis, cost-effective treatment and measure metabolic activity in obese patients.

Miller is working on this project with William Widger, a professor of biology and biochemistry at UH and two endocrinologists at Methodist Hospital in Houston.

A $623,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health supports the project.

The team is focusing on electrode-based sensors that detect mitochondrial enzymes in action. Their research may lead to development of portable instruments worn by patients for continuous monitoring of resting and active metabolism, as well as other clinical devices. Moreover, studies have shown that mitochondria are often defective in patients suffering from obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease. It is hoped the sensors will be able to distinguish normal from dysfunctional mitochondrial activity.